More states are joining New York in mandating mask wearing as a key component of stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Through the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo repeatedly has said social distancing and masks have led to a large drop in the number of cases in the state. Health officials also stressed the importance of wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing at a congressional hearing this week.
But many people remain unsure about masks, while doctors and elected officials have pointed out mistakes in how the uninitiated are wearing them.
Newsday interviewed two Long Island doctors, Dr. Mohammed Azaz, owner of Island Medical Care in Commack, and Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Winthrop in Mineola, about their recommendations on face coverings.
"People aren't covering their nose. It may be a bigger risk to leave your nose exposed than your mouth. When people wear it like this, it's like shutting the doors, but keeping windows open during a thunderstorm."
Dr. Mohammed Azaz
What's the biggest mistake you see people making while wearing masks?
AZAZ: People aren't covering their nose. It may be a bigger risk to leave your nose exposed than your mouth. When people wear it like this, it's like shutting the doors, but keeping windows open during a thunderstorm. It's not going to work. You are not protecting yourself.
POLSKY: Not covering the nose is the biggest and most dangerous mistake people make. Perhaps the best way to drive this point home is this: When we test for COVID-19, what do we do? We put a swab up your nose to find it. The virus is spread through droplets in the air, and you breathe through your nose.
Many people are either making cloth masks or buying them on sites such as Etsy. Are these effective?
AZAZ: They're 70% to 80% effective, but you want to make sure they have a tight fit. That's the case with all masks, really. Don't have them get wet. If the cloth is wet, it's more concentrated and will attract more things. Also, when they're wet, they'll get uncomfortable, and then you'll constantly fiddle with it.
POLSKY: These are fine for people working outside the health care setting. Keep in mind, however, that these function best in protecting others from you. It may not be as effective in protecting you from others who aren't wearing masks, because the material is usually cotton, and depending on the weave, it is possible … the virus could sneak through when it wouldn't go through a surgical mask.
Are basic surgical masks good enough to use, or should people buy N95s or other high-end masks?
AZAZ: Surgical masks are affordable and, as long as they're a tight fit, are very effective. For the general public, this is good. If I am privately with a patient who is suspected to be COVID-positive, I wear an N95 mask. Otherwise, the regular surgical masks are fine.
"You certainly want to wear a mask. If you're distant from others, it's safe to take it off, but when you're close to people, it's a good idea to put it back on."
Dr. Bruce Polsky
POLSKY: The N95 isn't necessary and should be reserved for health care workers, and even then, only health care workers who are working with patients who have or are suspected of having an airborne pathogen to which we may be exposed. N95s also need to be fit-tested to make sure they're effective.
Does that recommendation hold for high-risk patients?
POLSKY: Yes. If you need to go out in the general public, follow all the guidelines, including social distancing.
What about jogging outside? Should you wear a mask then?
POLSKY: You certainly want to wear a mask. If you're distant from others, it's safe to take it off, but when you're close to people, it's a good idea to put it back on.
What's the best way to take a mask off and put it away?
AZAZ: Loop it off using the strings. Don't touch the front of the mask.
How often can you wear a mask before cleaning it or throwing it away?
POLSKY: The general public can probably get away with using a surgical mask for more than one day, depending on how much they did. A cloth face covering, you'll want to put in the wash or at the least clean it with soap and water.
There has been some pushback about mask wearing nationally. In New York, perhaps a little less so. Does that surprise you?
AZAZ: Almost everyone I've seen has been willing to wear one. I've never been more proud of my adopted hometown. Look at how dense this area is. When something needs to be done, no one comes together like New Yorkers, and that's saying something, because if anyone knows how to complain, it's New Yorkers.